Approximately 7.6 percent of the U.S. adult population (17.9 million people) suffers from some kind of voice disorder.
There are many different voice disorders one can be diagnosed with, but vocal nodules are one of the most common.
If you suspect you have vocal nodules, keep reading to learn more about the condition and how to deal with it.
What are Vocal Nodules?
Your vocal folds are located inside your larynx, also known as your voice box. When you speak, air moves from the lungs through the vocal folds and into the mouth. The air causes these folds to vibrate and produce sound.
Nodules are benign growths that form on your vocal folds. Over time, if they’re not treated, these nodules can become larger and stiffer. They can also become harder, similar to the way a blister becomes a hard callous.
Vocal nodules go by many different names, including screamer’s nodule, vocal cord polyps, and vocal fold nodules.
Symptoms of Vocal Nodules
The symptoms of nodules are similar to the symptoms associated with many other voice disorders.
Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include:
- A “rough,” “scratchy,” or hoarse voice
- A “breathy” tone
- Shooting pain that extends from ear to ear
- Feeling as though you have a lump in your throat
- Pain in the neck
- Vocal and body fatigue
Many people also experience an increased ability to change pitch when they are speaking or singing.
Vocal Nodule Risk Factors
Anyone can develop nodules on their vocal folds. But, certain individuals are more prone to them than others.
Nodules affect people of all ages, but they seem to occur more frequently in adult females.
People who suffer from the following illnesses are also more likely to be diagnosed with nodules:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD)
- Hypothyroidism and other thyroid disorders
Nodules are also common among people who have to use their voice a lot as part of their occupation.
For example, teachers are often diagnosed, as are singers, sports coaches, cheerleaders, and those who work in the media. People who inhale irritants like industrial chemical fumes on a regular basis also face an increased risk.
This condition is also associated with unhealthy behaviors like long-term smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and excessive caffeine intake.
If you do have one or more of these risk factors, that’s not an automatic guarantee that you will be diagnosed with vocal nodules. But, you made need to take extra steps — such as avoiding unhealthy behaviors like smoking — to prevent nodules from forming on your vocal folds.
Preventing Vocal Nodules
The most important thing you can do to prevent nodules from forming on your vocal folds is to avoid unhealthy behaviors (smoking, alcohol consumption, etc.) that can contribute to them.
It’s also important to manage health conditions that are associated with an increased risk of developing nodules. Some specific ways you can manage these conditions include:
- Taking medications and making lifestyle changes to manage GERD
- Treating thyroid disorders with medication and lifestyle changes
- Taking allergy medication regularly and avoiding allergens as much as possible
Reducing stress is also important for keeping nodules at bay. You may also want to try and control the volume of your voice as much as possible. Avoid talking too loudly or shouting unnecessarily.
When Should You Visit Your Doctor?
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of vocal nodules for more than 2-3 weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
If they think you have nodules on your vocal folds, they may recommend you visit an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or speech-language pathologist (also known as a speech therapist) to get to the bottom of your issues.
When you visit a doctor or speech-language pathologist, they’ll listen to the way your voice sounds and ask you to change your pitch and volume. They’ll also likely listen to see how long you can keep talking before you lose your voice.
Your doctor may also look at your throat to watch the way your vocal folds move. They’ll do this by putting an endoscope in the mouth along with a flashing light, or stroboscope.
This will help them determine whether or not there are nodules present on their vocal folds.
How to Treat Vocal Nodules
If your doctor diagnoses you with nodules, they’ll likely look for the root cause of the condition.
If they believe that another medical condition caused the nodules to develop, they’ll likely recommend medication or other treatments to help you better manage your symptoms and allow your nodules to heal.
Your doctor will also likely recommend reducing stress and giving up behaviors like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption that tend to cause or make nodules worse.
Your doctor may also suggest that you work with a speech-language pathologist. They can help you improve the way you speak and teach you strategies that will stop you from causing additional damage to your vocal folds.
When is Surgery Required?
If your nodules are very large or have been present for a long time, you may need to have surgery to have them removed.
During this procedure, a surgeon will use fine surgical instruments or tools like lasers to carefully remove the nodules. Once the surgery is complete, you’ll need to rest your voice as much as possible and spend a few months using it only in a limited capacity.
After the surgery, you’ll likely need to work with a speech-language pathologist to learn how to avoid abusing your voice and help you recover properly from the surgery.
If you don’t prioritize recovery after your surgery, you may end up dealing with permanent voice changes.
Do You Need a Speech Therapist?
Are you interested in working with a speech therapist to treat your vocal nodules or recover properly from your surgery? Do you want to work with a professional without having to leave your house?
If so, you might want to consider online speech therapy.
Contact us at Great Speech today to schedule a free consultation and find out whether or not our services are right for you.